Part 3 – Dissension in the Ranks
In the days following the fire, word began to circulate that the Chief Engineer of the fire department RJ Weisbrod and First Assistant Charles Reif were at odds. The Oshkosh Northwestern published comments on December 7 by Weisbrod accusing Reif of drunkenness and insubordination following the retrieval of Mrs. Paige’s body. Weisbrod stated that Reif took a reward given to him by a salesman whose valise Reif had rescued from the fire and went with a friend to a tavern to drink. Weisbrod said that Reif was sent home drunk at about 10 PM on the night of the fire. The next day, according to Weisbrod, Reif came back to the still active scene of the fire and tried to undermine Weisbrod’s authority by directing the firemen to move the water hose to a different part of the building. Reif and Weisbrod had words at the scene and accusations flew on both sides. Weisbrod accused Reif of vanity after his praise for the rescue of Mrs. Paige’s body, and Reif accused Weisbrod of ineptitude. Weisbrod threatened Reif that he would send him to jail if he ever showed up to a fire drunk again and Reif threatened his resignation.
The same edition of the paper stated that it had been reported that SB Paige had offered a $5000 reward at the time of the fire for the rescue of his wife from the burning hotel. This statement was vehemently denied by JA Paige and SB Paige who said that it should not be necessary to bribe firemen to do their duty.
December 8 bought the published minutes of the common council meeting from the evening of December 7. Alderman McCabe proposed a resolution thanking Charles Reif for his bravery and issuing thanks from the mayor and the council. This was amended to include the name of Robert Brauer to much opposition by Alderman McCabe. McCabe went on to accuse Brauer of cowardice stating that he should have gone into the window the first time the ladder was sent up and that Mrs Paige might have been saved. The Northwestern also published a letter from Charles Reif refuting the allegations of RJ Weisbrod from the day before.
The 9th of December brought a published letter written by JA Davis on behalf of Robert Brauer refuting the accusation of cowardice by McCabe. The letter included a statement by Brauer about the events of the night of the Beckwith House fire. A letter from RJ Weisbrod and three other former fire chiefs also appeared denouncing McCabe’s statements about Brauer’s conduct. The Northwestern continued to follow the story of the Beckwith House fire with published statements by Mr. Beckwith regarding the stairways and exits in the hotel to refute claims about the inadequate means of escape from the building.
On December 10 the Northwestern published the now predictable counter letter from Alderman McCabe defending his position and making scathing insinuations about RJ Weisbrod and several other detractors of Reif in the previous days. McCabe’s letter included a statement from Reif about his version of events from the night of the fire at Beckwith house.
The newspapers were largely quiet on the subject of the Beckwith House fire after December 10. There were a few short pieces published on finding George Wood’s body, the plans to rebuild, etc. up until February 1, 1881. That day an article was published stating that Charles Reif and another fireman were suspended from duty after a drunken brawl in a local saloon. The suspension was announced at the common council meeting the next evening according to the published minutes.
March 2 brought the petition of Charles Reif denying all charges and asking for a hearing before an unbiased committee. The petition was met with a tie vote between the hearing going in front of the police committee or the fire committee. The mayor broke the tie with the hearing going before the fire committee. Reif brought his petition before the council again on April 27 with it being referred to the fire committee.
Charles Reif announced his lawsuit against SB Paige on May 2 for the $5000 reward that was offered for the retrieval of Mrs. Paige from the Beckwith House. Another suit against Paige reported at that time was from Mr. Beckwith for the room rent in the hotel. Mr. Paige was leaving Oshkosh to relocate to Davenport, Iowa and the suits were served upon his departure.
On May 18, the Northwestern published the minutes of the common council including the fire committee’s recommendation that Charles Reif was owed by the mayor and clerk his salary for the month of April amounting to $12.50. Further, the police committee requested a rehearing of the charges against Reif. Alderman McCabe moved that Reif be declared exonerated of all charges. The motion was carried unanimously. On May 25th Robert Brauer soundly beat Reif in the election of the assistant engineer for the fire department.
The story continues – Part 4
This story was put together after researching my husband’s great great grandfather Johann Karl Friedrich “Charles” Reif. The story can be found primarily in the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper beginning on 3 December 1880 (although parts of the story were published in papers across the US and Canada) and continuing into the 1920s and beyond.